Saturday, January 12, 2019

Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

Title: The Address
Author: Fiona Davis
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: August 2017
Rating: 5/5 Stars

Do you ever check out a book from the library on a whim and then end up so pleasantly surprised by the story that you can't believe your good luck? That was me with The Address; I saw the cover on Libby, my favorite library borrowing app, and immediately checked it out, even though I knew little of the story. I'm familiar with Fiona Davis for writing historical fiction centered around architectural landmarks, but I haven't read one before. Now, my TBR is filled with her books and I can't wait to read more.

The Address focuses on The Dakota, the famed New York City apartment house overlooking Central Park. Following dual timelines, the first heroine we meet is Sara Smythe, an Englishwoman running a luxury hotel in London who takes a chance managing an apartment house, then a very new concept, in New York, offered to her by an architect staying in her hotel who rewards her for saving his daughter from an accident. Sara is smart and capable, but shamed by her background of being the daughter of a housekeeper who had an affair with her noble master. Seeking a fresh start, Sara crosses the Atlantic and arrives in New York with no idea of what her job would be. Unlike today, The Dakota of the 1800's was located in what was considered the middle of nowhere, away from the center of the city. It was a haven for the up and coming members of society who were making their own fortunes instead of inheriting legacies. I loved Davis' description of the building and the location. I've seen it in person but it was lovely to imagine how it must have looked when it was surrounded by near-wilderness.

The Dakota in the 19th century
Meanwhile, we fast forward to 1980's New York, also a fascinating time, and meet Bailey Camden, a recovering alcoholic and interior designer who is trying to get back on her feet after leaving rehab. Her "cousin" Melinda, so-called because Bailey's grandfather was raised as a ward by Melinda's great-grandparents, is the descendent the same architect who offered Sara Smythe that job so many years ago, and Melinda has since inherited an apartment in the Dakota. Melinda tasks Bailey with redecorating it, 80's style, and Bailey is allowed to live there while she reluctantly takes down all of the historical detail and charm in order to please Melinda. While there, Bailey makes friends with one of the older residents who relates to her the history of the building, and with the super, who aids Bailey in her search to research the history of the Camdens. While going through old trunks in the apartment storage, Bailey uncovers secrets that may change her fate and shed light on what happened to Sara Smythe.

In Bailey's world, the Dakota is famed for being the site where John Lennon was killed
This story ticks all the boxes for me: there's history, there's flawed female leads, and there's a murder mystery. Sara Smythe, who we have gotten to know in the past, is infamous in Bailey's time for murdering the architect Camden; what series of events lead this level-headed, ambitious woman to murder a man she seems to idealize? How is Bailey connected to a hundred year old mystery? There are also cameos from 19th century figures to look forward to, as well as a few plot twists and turns I wasn't expecting. I was all in for the ride no matter how wild it got, so I recommend going into this book without research too much what it is about. Throughout it all, Davis manages to capture both the glitz and glamour as well as the dark underbelly of both time periods that this story includes.

Overall, I really enjoyed the storytelling style, the alternating timelines, and the way both women's stories wove together. Now please excuse me while I read all of Fiona Davis' backlist and pre-order her 2019 release, The Chelsea Girls.

Friday, January 11, 2019

2019 Reading Goals

Since we're almost 2 weeks into 2019, I figured I should probably post my reading goals for the year before it's too late for them to be New Year's Resolutions. Luckily, I ended 2018 on a really good note in my reading life, having had a month of regular reading and plenty of four and five star reads. My awesome end to 2018 (in terms of reading at least) made me pretty optimistic about how my bookish life will look in 2019, and we'll see if my expectations live up to reality.

Looking Back on 2018

Happy New Year from me and Fabio
Not gonna lie, I had a harding time getting back into reading around the start of 2018. I had to read a lot of books for an award committee that I was on, which meant reading quite a few books I wouldn't normally read, and it's really draining to have to read something as opposed to choosing to read it. I had a flashback to being in college and being forced to read Frankenstein and hating it; had I chose to read it, maybe I would have been less critical. But every now and then, I would read a book that would make me want to keep reading, and by November I was getting back into it. I started a new job and was able to have more time in the mornings before work to read, and have just been in a better head space in general which made me want to take care of myself during my downtime with my favorite thing- reading.

Booknerd highlight: taking a photo with Fabio on New Year's Eve. I fangirled just a little bit.

Favorite Reads of 2018




Goal: Read 25 contemporary romance books

Goal: Read 25 historical fiction books

Goal: Ready for 24 of 48 hours 1/26/19 - 1/27/19

Goal: Read 52 books that fit categories designated for 52 weeks

Reading Resolutions
  • Read what feels good and don't feel bad about quitting a book
  • Read more books that I own
  • Borrow ebooks from the library instead of buying them, as I usually don't re-read them
  • Try authors I've never read before
  • Keep reading diverse books
  • Prioritize reading and reviewing ARCs I am approved for on NetGalley

How about you? Do you set reading goals for the year or just play it by ear? Signed up for any challenges? Leave them below! I'm always looking for more challenges, as if I don't have enough books to read.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Review: Spectacle by Jodie Lynn Zdrok

Title: Spectacle
Author: Jodie Lynn Zdrok
Genre: YA/Historical/Fantasy/Mystery
Release Date: February 2019
Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Spectacle is an atmospheric YA debut that promises thrills and horror and, fortunately, the story delivers; set in 1887 Paris, we begin the story following Nathalie, a 16-year-old burgeoning reporter who is tasked with writing the morgue report for Le Petit Journal. While visiting the morgue, which is open to the public, to research her daily article, Nathalie finds herself supernaturally entangled in a mystery of a serial killer, and discovers she may possess unique gifts that could help the police unmask the murderer. Aided by her best friend Simone and a cute young investigator, Nathalie puts her journalism skills and her unique gifts to work in unraveling a gruesome mystery.

Throughout the book, Zdrok does an excellent job capturing the morbid fascination with true crime that was as true in the 19th century as it is today. In Nathalie's world, Parisians view corpses at the morgue with their toddlers in tow, visit wax museums depicting scenes of murder victims, and enjoy celebratory drinks after watching a public execution. Even though this book takes place in the summer, it has a very eerie vibe and the setting really drew me into the story with its cafés, cabarets, and catacombs.

There were def some Penny Dreadful vibes
In addition to the time period and the setting, I also really enjoyed being in Nathalie's head; she's smart and rational, so I wasn't constantly yelling at her like I find myself doing so often with mystery books. I also loved that Nathalie actually had friends who were fully developed and had their own lives, only adding to the realism of her world, and her parents really added to the story instead of fading into the background, which I find happens all too often in YA novels. I don't want to discuss too much of the plot in this review in order to avoid spoilers, but I thought there actually were a good amount of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. I almost didn't trust a single person throughout the story, especially due to the elements of mysterious magic, missing memories, and visits to the insane asylum (I'm telling you, this book has it all). At times, the middle of the book was paced a bit slow, but it quickly picked up and sucked me back in.

I found this debut to be an excellent read that I would recommend to lovers of historical mysteries (I read all of the Lady Julia Grey books, so I'm the target audience) who also enjoy fantasy and horror elements thrown in as well. This is kind of a dark read with some gruesome details, but to me that adds to its appeal. I hope there are more books planned set in this world, because I'm dying to find out more!

Note: I received a digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thank you to NetGalley and Tor Teen for providing me this copy!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Review: Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren

Title: Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating
Author: Christina Lauren
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Release Date: September 2018
Rating: 4/5 Stars

This book was such a cute, fun way to start off my 2019 reading life! I really enjoyed Roomies by this author duo, and after finishing that one I knew I had to  give Josh and Hazel a try. Living in Portland, our leading lady is Hazel, an elementary teacher who is quirky and funny and unapologetic about her unique personality. She describes herself as "undateable", due to the fact that so many guys expect her to change who she is in order to be more palatable, but ever since she remembers her father calling her mother "embarrassing", she knows she'll never change who she is for a guy. This leads her to instead focus mostly on her friendships, all the while having an aversion to long-term relationships. 

Our hero, meanwhile, is Josh Im, who is practical and steady, but also very non-judgmental and is one of the few people who will go along with Hazel's bits or at least doesn't get embarrassed by them. They met in college, and college-Hazel dreamed of making Josh her best friend; when they reconnect later in life, they decide that they don't want to date each other (for some reason!!!), but instead set each other up on blind double dates (yes this is as hilarious as it sounds), until they figure out why they should be together instead.

I loved every minute of Hazel and her unique world-view (and collection of pets), and the banter between she and Josh felt so real. Watching their relationship grow and evolve was one of my favorite parts of the novel. Meanwhile, I also appreciate how this author duo always works diversity into their books, as they simply present the modern world as many people move through it, which means characters of different cultures, sexual orientations, and economic backgrounds. Friend groups are diverse and side characters feel fully three-dimensional, which to me just makes the couple seem more real and makes me want to root for them more. Christina Lauren books are becoming my go-to for upbeat contemporary romance with a good mix of humor and drama. 

If you like light romances that read quickly but feature unique characters, definitely check this one out!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Review: The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo

Title: The Night Tiger
Author: Yangsze Choo
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Release Date: February 2019
Rating: 5/5 Stars

Last year, I discovered my favorite under-the-radar read, The Ghost Bride, which came out in 2013 and told a spellbinding story of a beautiful girl in Malacca, Malaya who is betrothed to a dead man, and the trials she must endure to avoid becoming a ghost bride and creating the life she truly wants. I finished the book in something like two days and I immediately searched for other works by the author, but was extremely disappointed to find out it was her debut and, only, book. 

Fast forward to seeing The Night Tiger on NetGalley a few months ago. I immediately cheered, added it on Goodreads and requested it, crossing my fingers that I would get approved. Now, here I am having finished, again in about two days, and I'm awestruck by this author once more. Similarly to The Ghost Bride, Choo's latest work intertwines folklore, myth, and magic with the everyday trials of grief, feeling like one's fate is out of one's hands, and examining the gender inequality so present in society. Taking place in a different Malaya location, mostly in Ipoh and Batu Gajah, during the early 1930's, the setting is a beautifully bittersweet rendering of a country that sees the blend of so many rich cultures side by side with the careful grip of colonialism. 

In this setting, we meet Ji Lin, a smart, clever girl whose name corresponds with the virtue of wisdom, even if at times she feels she is always doing the wrong thing. Ji Lin loved academics and longed to study medicine, but her family forbid it due to her gender, and instead she is relegated to apprenticing at a dress shop and earning extra money as a "dance instructor" at a dance hall, the May Flower. In 1930's Malaya, working in a dance hall is seen as being very unbecoming and lowers her status, but Ji Lin enjoys the female friendship and it's the only way she can make enough money to help cover for her mother's secret gambling debts. Ji Lin grew up along side Shin, (or xin, the the virtue of faithfulness) her stepbrother, and they were always close, even sharing a birthday, until they finished school and Shin left home to pursue the career in medicine that Ji Lin so desperately wanted.
The Ghost Bride, 2013

Running parallel to Ji Lin's struggles, we meet Ren, who is a possibly ten or eleven year old trying to pass for "almost thirteen", an orphan whose twin brother died years ago. Ren, an extremely competent houseboy, is on a mission to fulfill the dying wish of his former master, which was to be buried with his missing finger so that he could pass into the afterlife as a complete person. Ren, clever and determined and honestly the highlight of this book, goes to work for a new master, a doctor like his previous one, in the town where Shin happens to be working as an orderly. 

In the background of the private struggles of each character is a possible man-eating tiger who may not be a man or a tiger completely, but some fearsome combination of both. Add to this a magical blend of ghosts, premonitions, and dreams that feel "like stories unfolding", and you can almost picture the perfection that is The Night Tiger. Drawing from folklore and mythology combined with beautifully evocative writing, I'm glad that Choo took her time with this manuscript because the finished work has turned out to be one of my favorite books (once again!) that will stick with me for a long time. I highly recommend preordering this book, and even though I received an e-ARC of it, I'll probably end up purchasing it as well. Not only is the cover gorgeous, but I feel this is the type of story I will want to read and re-read and get more out of it with each reading. If you love historical fiction, settings that are often not written about historically, and a blend of magic and ghost story, I cannot recommend this book enough.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Confession: I am low-key obsessed with Holiday Romance

I think because I live in L.A. and there are palm trees everywhere and we all don our winter coats as soon as the temperature dips below 65 degrees, I love reading holiday romances during December. My favorites are ones set in small towns where there is actual snow, so I can really live vicariously through these characters who have seasons. I'm not even a Christian person (raised Catholic, grew up to be more "spiritual" than religious), but Christmas is fun and holiday romances give me warm, fuzzy feelings. Sometimes this means skipping ahead in a series I've never read so I can get to the holiday novella, or branching out to authors I don't normally reach for, and it usually means reading a lot more contemporaries than usual, but that is just how I get into the wintery mood. Keep reading for a few of the holiday romances on my Currently Reading and To Be Read lists! 

The Dance Before Christmas by Victoria Alexander (Lady Traveler's Series)

I stan so hard for this series, it's honestly one of my favorites. These are books that are so rich with setting, historical detail, and unique characters that Alexander's books are insta-buys for me. I pre-ordered A Dance Before Christmas and was super stoked to see it magically appear on my Kindle. In this novella, heroine Anabel Snelling needs a fiancé by Christmas or else she'll have to marry the man her father has selected for her, and marrying him is the last thing she wants. Like any reasonable romance heroine, she hires an American actor, Wesley Grant, to play the role of her future husband. This has everything I love: first of all, it's a Victoria Alexander novel. Second of all, fake relationship. Third of all, Christmas. And it's only 113 pages long so it's a perfect quick read to finish in one sitting.

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan 

Set in Scotland? Check. Three sisters with secrets and complicated lives? Check. Christmas magic and a sparkly cover? Check. Once again, I pre-ordered this one (hi, I have issues), but this time on Audible. This seems like a good read for listening to while cooking or baking (I do these things occasionally). The Christmas Sisters features a coming home story for sisters Hannah, a workaholic who hasn't been home in years, Beth, a stay at home mom who wants a new life, and Posy, who takes care of her parents but is also looking for a change, possibly with her hot neighbor. This strikes me as more a clean, wholesome read with elements of romance but a greater focus on family dynamics and I can't wait to get into it.

Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber

Believe it or not, I've never read a book by Debbie Macomber! She always seemed a bit too wholesome for me, but I saw the cover of this book (hello, Aurora Borealis realness) and read the description and I knew I had to give this prolific author a try. First of all, the heroine, Josie, is a chef (hot job) and the hero, Palmer, is a freaking swordcraftsman (also a hot job), so that is the first element that drew me to this book. Plus, it's set in Alaska at a romantic snowy lodge, and I'm hyped up on Alaska still after reading The Simple Wild last month. So wish me luck on my first foray into Ms. Macomber's works! Also, look at those cute dogs on the cover.

Holiday Temptation by Donna Hill, Farrah Rochon, and K.M. Jackson 

It's not a holiday romance round-up without a few short story collections! In Holiday Temptation, Donna Hill's story A Gift of Love features a drama professor (her) and a sexy barista (him); Farrah Rochon's Holiday Spice is all about holiday travel and features jetsetting photographer Miranda falling for Christmas-enthusiast Kyle; and, lastly, K.M. Jackson's From Here to Serenity, which is more of a New Year's tale that follows a successful CEO as he goes on a cruise to relax during the holidays, and where he meets a beautiful personal chef, Essie. I love the range of settings and characters in these contemporary romances, written by some of the best of the best of the genre. Plus, my library had a copy which is always a plus! Preparing to curl up with this one whenever I'm looking for a short, sweet story in between longer books.

How the Dukes Stole Christmas by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe

Now on to the historical anthology! This one just came out this year and features short stories by some of the powerhouse authors of the genre. Admittedly, Sarah MacLean books haven't really worked for me, but I love Tessa Dare (mostly) and I've liked all the Sophie Jordan books I've read. Joanna Shupe is another author that's always on my TBR but haven't gotten to yet, so now is my chance! All of the stories in this collection feature Duke heroes (duh), but each author takes a different approach to this common trope. The story by Sophie Jordan appeals to me the most, as it features a hermit duke (love a broody dude), and she writes a bit steamier that most of the authors on this list so it will be a good change of pace for all of the wholesome holiday-ness. 

Dance All Night by Alexis Daria (Dance Off series)

Love the addition of New Year's holiday romances! In this novella, ballroom champion Jess and Broadway star Nik have a past history of New Year's kisses that went nowhere, despite their mutual attraction. Jess hates the holidays, but Nik can't stop thinking about the one that got a way, so when the holidays roll around again, he plans to finally make her his. Daria's series is full of humor and diverse characters who share a common love of dance and artistry. If you haven't checked out the series yet, definitely pick it up and then dive into this short holiday story.

A Wedding One Christmas by Theresa Beharrie

Once again, my favorite trope: a fake romance, and during the holidays no less! A comedy of errors leads Angie to be in a wedding in South Africa while she's on her way home to Capetown; a handsome stranger agrees to play her date, and he hates weddings as much as she does (same). But their feelings may go beyond fake, and this hero might be the one to help Angie heal after the death of her father as she deals with spending her first holiday without him. I love everything about this! And contemporaries set somewhere else than the typical fake small town in the U.S. are always a refreshing change of pace.

That's all for this year's holiday round-up! We'll see if I make it to all these books on my list before the holidays are officially over and I have to start planning for my 2019 reading goals. For now, I look forward to sipping cocoa, enjoying some holiday romances, and pretending it's not glaringly sunny outside.

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review: Small Town Hearts by Lillie Vale

Title: Small Town Hearts

Author: Lillie Vale

Genre: Contemporary Romance/Young Adult

Release Date: May 2019

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sometimes, you just need a solid small-town romance to cleanse the palate after reading a pile of literary fiction titles and for me, Small Town Hearts was the perfect sweet treat. Small Town Hearts is a bittersweet, beautifully written book that perfectly captures the in between of growing up and childhood, of moving forward or staying in place. The story follows 19-year-old Babe, who works and lives in the small Maine town of Oar's Rest. Babe is happy to stay in town after graduation and pursue her love of baking and coffee, and plans on spending the summer with her best friends who also happen to be dating. Babe herself hasn't dated since her ex girlfriend left for college, and she certainly doesn't plan on pursuing the cute, mysterious "summer boy" Levi who is in town for a summer art program. But Babe's summer gets complicated real fast and nothing turns out quite as she plans.

Babe is the best, she bakes and makes coffee

What I loved: the setting! Oar's Rest is an idyllic small town set on the coast of Maine. Babe lives in a freaking lighthouse and is a baker and barista at a super cute coffee shop called the Busy Bean. There's an annual fish fry and sandcastle competition, and neighbors around Oar's Rest look out for each other. Yet even in this sweet small town, there's drama. Babe doesn't know her father, and her mother basically takes off most of the year to work on a cruise line. At nineteen, Babe is basically on her own and supporting herself, so her friends play an extra important role in her life as sort of her found family. So when her perfect summer plans come to a halt when her best friend, Penny, decides to break up with her other best friend, Chad, and asks Babe to do it for her, Babe knows that no matter how much she hates change, this will be a summer full of it. Babe finds some relief in Levi, an artist in town for the summer as a part of the town's Art Center's artist in residence program, but she has no desire to fall for a boy who will only be in town for a few months, so she tries her best to keep him at arm's length. Meanwhile, she finds out her ex, Elodie, also an artist, is back in town for the summer and she dreads seeing the girl who broke her heart. As you can see there are lots of juicy moments throughout the story, but overall the authenticity of the characters really shines through, even with all of their faults.

How I pictured Babe's front yard
Plus, It was nice to read a story with a bisexual heroine whose coming out isn't the focus of the story, but instead her sexuality is just already a fact about who she is. The writing is really evocative and the setting makes you wish this town was real. Although there are quite a few dramatic moments between friends and exes, I thought that was very authentic given the age of the characters. Everyone is right on the edge of being done with high school and forced to start growing up, but also reluctant to be a full-fledged adult. Babe's story really rang true for me, and I would definitely recommend this to readers who love small town settings, realistic angst, and complicated friendships and relationships. Also, it will make you really hungry so make sure you have coffee and a baked good while you're reading!

Admittedly, it was kind of odd to read this book during the holidays since it takes place in the summer, but it actually perfectly captured that warm-and-fuzzy first love feeling that is fun to read about this time of year. It's expected publication date is next May, so it will come out right in time to be a perfect summer read. A really solid YA contemporary, and I look forward to hearing more from this author!